Iowa Caucus: Three Take-Aways

The most telling statistic of the Iowa Caucus is the payoff for the money each candidate spent. It tells a story of the integrity of Iowa Republican voters. Iowa voters are not easily persuaded by flashy ads. We want to hear the candidate and discuss his or her record—at length.

Let’s look at each candidates return on investment.

Jon Huntsman spent the most per vote at over $5000, his $4M brought him 745 votes. Michele Bachmann had a disappointing 6th-place 6 thousand votes, so her $6M rates at $1000 per voter. Mitt Romney sowed an eye-popping $17½ million; he reaped 30,000 votes; that’s $600 per vote. Ron Paul came right about average at $300 and change spent per vote ($9 M for 26,000 votes). The hands down winner was Santorum who spent only $37 for each voter received.

To put it the other way, the victor-by-eight-votes Romney, connected with 1.7 voters for each $1000 he spent. The underfunded underdog used each thousand-dollar bill to connect with 27 voters. (I recognize that the numbers are a little problematic because they reflect total spending not just spending in Iowa.) Here are the detailed calculations:

Spending data found at OpenSecrets.org.

The second moral of the Iowa Caucus story is the demographic distribution of support. Of the 99 counties, 62 chose Santorum, 18 chose Paul, and 17 went for Mitt. Romney’s support in his 17 counties was roughly equal to Santorum’s 62 counties. Romney did better in dense population areas, Santorum did better in rural areas. Despite his efforts to escape his record, Romney was less favored by the most conservative counties of the state. So much so that, even with the split in the conservative vote, Romney won by a mere eight votes. If Perry, Gingrich, and Bachmann bow out, the conservative vote will find their new home in Santorum’s camp. Romney would find himself in second place in the nation and without his single best campaign argument—that he is the obvious heir to the nomination.

Republican Winners by County

The third observation comes from the proportion of votes awarded to a non-Romney. Pundits have seen the campaign thus far as the attempt of the party to find a suitable anybody-but-Romney candidate. So count the votes: Romney 25%, Not-Romney 75%. Actually, that is not entirely accurate. The race is not Romney vs. anti-Romney, the race is between the Romneyites, the Conservatives, and Ron Paul’s coalition blend (mostly Libertarians, some Conservatives, and, admit it, a smattering of Tin-Foil Hatters). The voting is therefore about 50% Conservatives, 25% Romneyites, and 20% Ron’s Revolution Coalition.

Last night, Santorum showed that a conservative really can win the party’s nomination. He won the chance to compete in earnest for the big primary states. Huckabee won that in Iowa in 2008; but conservatives were browbeaten into surrendering the primary early and accepting “the only candidate who could beat the democrat”. How did that work out? If conservatives can resist the temptation to repeat the fiasco of 2008, this could be the turning point in the primary season.

Edited: I had mis-copied a few data in the spending column. The article is now corrected.

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  1. Santorum, The Choice for Conservatives « Right On Politics

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